False Confessions & Interrogations


Research & Studies

  • False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications A summary by Dr. Richard A. Leo (see his FRONTLINE interview) of empirical research on false confessions. He identifies three sequential processes that often elicit false confessions, as well as the personality traits and dispositions that make some people especially vulnerable.
  • The Substance of False Confessions [PDF] Brandon L. Garrett examines 40 cases where individuals falsely confessed to crimes and explains how many of the confessions were rich in detail, suggesting contamination. He advocates for regulating the interrogation process. Garrett also created this online library of transcripts and testimony from the trials of people who had confessed, but were exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing.
  • The Psychology of False Confessions [PDF] Richard P. Conti examines how coercive questioning and psychological and social factors can influence innocent suspects to give self-incriminating false statements. He focuses on how feigned sympathy, friendship and appeals to God and religion can be deceptive and psychologically coercive in some interrogations.
  • A Critical Appraisal of Modern Police Interrogations [PDF] This white paper by leading researchers analyzes trends in the characteristics of people who wrongfully confess. It recommends reforms in interrogation practices, including mandating the recording of interrogations, banning the ability of interrogators to introduce false evidence and doing more to protect particularly vulnerable suspect populations. It also calls for a re-examination of the "guilt-presumptive" and confrontational process of the Reid technique -- the nine-step process of questioning that has been popular among interrogators for the last half century.
  • Investigative Interviewing: Rights, Research, Regulation [PDF Excerpt] Researcher Saul M. Kassin identifies some key risks in interrogations based on the Reid technique, and argues for mandatory videotaping of all interrogations.
  • The Truth About False Confessions A blog by Williams College Professor Alan Hirsch with information on the latest research and cases. He focuses on police interrogation techniques and prosecutorial misconduct.
  • False Confessions Cases: The Issues [PDF] A paper by Reid and Associates, Inc., the company which patented the Reid technique for interrogation training. The company responds to issues surrounding false confessions, outlining its own position and offering advice [PDF] on distinguishing between true and false confessions.
  • False Confessions? An article by Paul G. Cassell cautioning against overgeneralizing the problem and frequency of false confessions. He maintains that failing to obtain the confession of a guilty person poses a greater threat than false confessions.

News Coverage

  • "What Happened in Norfolk?" The New York Times magazine's 2007 profile of the Norfolk Four, which lays out some of the astonishing aspects of the case.
  • The Washington Post's Reporting Their collection of articles includes a series of editorials published from 2000-2008 asking Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine for a re-investigation of the case and clemency for the four men. A sample of some of the Post's editorials: The paper's final editorial was published Aug. 8, 2009, after Gov. Kaine freed the men but denied them a full pardon -- meaning they were not exonerated and would be branded felons and sex offenders. The newspaper also published Gov. Kaine's full statement on the case.
  • "I Did It" A New York magazine article on Frank Sterling, who falsely confessed to a rape and murder. After 19 years in prison, he was set free based on the confession of another man whose DNA was linked to the crime. The article examines the nine-step "Reid technique" used by police.
  • Confessing to Crime, But Innocent A New York Times article on the Eddie Lowery case -- he got a $7.5 million settlement after spending 10 years in prison -- and the debate over false confessions and criminal justice reform.


The Innocence Project, which works to free the wrongfully convicted and reform the criminal justice system, has a section on its website about false confessions. It includes a fact sheet, a map showing states which require recorded interrogations and a model for recording interrogations. Other organizations, like the Detectives Endowment Association of New York City, argue that video-recorded confessions are too complicated for some jurors and could result in the guilty getting away with crimes.

The Northwestern School of Law's Center for False Convictions has a page of information, including background on five Illinois cases. Also take a look at FalseConfessions.org, an advocacy clearinghouse that offers an abundance of resources, including facts and figures and information on legislation and reform. Jay Salpeter, a retired New York City detective, serves the organization's advisory board.


blog comments powered by Disqus

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

posted november 9, 2010

The Confessions home page / watch online
FRONTLINE series home | Privacy Policy | Journalistic Guidelines | PBS Privacy Policy | PBS Terms of Use

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation